C. Arnholdt Smith

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Conrad Arnholdt Smith (aka Conrad Arnholt Smith) (March 13, 1899 in Walla Walla, Washington – June 8, 1996 in Del Mar, California) was a leading businessman and civic activist in San Diego, California.

Personal Life[edit]

Smith was born in Walla Walla, Washington. His family fled to San Diego in 1907 when his father faced prison for perjury in a political case. Smith grew up poor and never finished high school. He became a bank teller, and impressed A.P. Giannini, who moved him rapidly up the ranks of the Bank of Italy (now the Bank of America). In the 1970s, he married Maria Helen Alvarez, and the couple had one child named Joseph Thomas Alvarez III.


With financial help from his brother in the oil business, Smith bought the United States National Bank in 1933. Smith was an entrepreneur with diversified investments, and became the most prominent civic leader in San Diego.[1]

He owned the largest bank in the city, had major interests in the tuna industry and real estate, and owned the San Diego Padres of the National League from their inception through 1974. Originally, he purchased the minor league Padres of the Pacific Coast League in 1955. He was awarded one of two National League expansion franchises slated to start in the 1969 season (along with the Montreal Expos). After failing in an attempt to move the Padres to Washington, D.C., he sold the team to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc.

Smith was a close friend and, at one time, the largest donor to President Richard M. Nixon, and was with him on election night when Nixon won the presidency in 1968.

Smith was the head of Westgate-California Corporation, a conglomerate which had interests in real estate, seafood canneries, silver mines, and transportation companies. Smith was a major investor in San Diego's third largest industry, tuna. When Japan started offering cheaper tuna after 1950, Smith worked to break the union using new technology and Peruvian canneries.[2]


Smith's base was ownership of the United States National Bank in San Diego, of which he had purchased controlling interest in 1933. The bank grew to become the 86th largest bank in the country with $1.2 billion in total assets. The bank failed in 1973, at which time it was the largest bank failure in history, due to an excessive level of bad loans to Smith-controlled companies, which exceeded the bank's legal lending limit.[3] In August 1973, the Internal Revenue Service sued Smith for $23 million. In 1979, Smith was convicted of embezzlement of $8.9 million and tax fraud, involving his sale of the San Diego Padres.[4] He served eight months in a county minimum-security Work Furlough Center in 1984 and 1985; his sentence was reduced due to his poor health.[5] He died in 1996 of congestive heart failure.


  1. ^ Kevin Starr, Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (2009) p 63-66[1]
  2. ^ Kevin Starr, Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963 (2009) p 65-66
  3. ^ The Comptroller and the Transformation of American Banking, 1960-1990 By Eugene N. White. Diane Pub Co. 1992[2]
  4. ^ Arnholt Smith Guilty Of Evading Taxes Washington Post May 4, 1979[3]
  5. ^ Ex-Financier C. Arnholt Smith Released From Custody Associated Press Archive July 21, 1985[4]

Further reading[edit]

  • Noble, Holcombe B. "C. Arnholt Smith, 97, Banker And Padres Chief Before a Fall," New York Times June 11, 1996, obituary
  • San Diego Tycoon C. Arnholt Smith Dies Los Angeles Times June 10, 1996[5]

External links[edit]